Book review

Fan identities in the furry fandom, by Jessica Ruth Austin


Independent scholar, Chicago, Illinois, United States

[0.1] Keywords—Ethics; Fan Studies; Posthumanism

yerf. 2023. Fan Identities in the Furry Fandom, by Jessica Ruth Austin [book review]. In "Trans Fandom," edited by Jennifer Duggan and Angie Fazekas, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 39.

Jessica Ruth Austin, Fan identities in the furry fandom. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2021, hardback $77 (184pp), e-book $69.30 (184pp), ISBN 9781501375439.

[1] Arriving thirteen years after the first peer-reviewed article on furry (note 1), the first academic book on furry has now hit the scene. Advertised as an exploration of "the Furries," Jessica Ruth Austin’s Fan Identities in the Furry Fandom comprises seven punchy chapters that explore the ideas of posthumanism and fan studies. Fan Identities takes inspiration from and is generously citational of both academic genealogies; it does not itself tarry with inventing new jargon or concepts. Throughout the book, although the subject matter (or at least the approach to it) can be argued as new in academic literature, there is no novel theoretical contribution. The primary argument of the book, that furries exist along a hobbyist–lifestyler continuum, is often taken as a taxonomic fact in furry discourse. The book is organized around this existing inner-Fandom, emic terminology of "hobbyist" and "lifestyler," though Austin does not cite or credit any fur as her source for these terms. The argument is supported by existing academic concepts from fan studies and posthumanism—with the discussion of hobbyist furs leaning more on terms from fan studies and the discussion of lifestylers relying on well-worn concepts from posthumanism.

[2] Given the use of existing theory from posthumanism and fan studies, one might expect Fan Identities to have a more qualitative bent. However, Austin notes the "preferential use of quantitative methods" (9) in studies of furry, and she works to blend qualitative and quantitative approaches into the design of her research. Austin’s research includes a 2016 survey distributed via the r/furry subreddit with over one thousand participants (n = 1,020) (note 2). In addition to the survey data, Austin analyzes NSFW-tagged uploads to FurAffinity, the analysis of which composes the bulk of the sixth chapter, "Pornography in the Furry Fandom" (the images are not reprinted, only her analytic memos when viewing the works).

[3] The second chapter, "Furries as Fans," lays out the book’s central argument: there exists a dichotomy between hobbyists and lifestyler furs, and this dichotomy is pivotal to understanding and designing research on furry. At the end of this chapter, Austin specifies that the hobbyist–lifestyler binary should be seen on "a spectrum rather than in opposition" (47). This proposition is seemingly sidelined as the book continues. As one reads on, the book’s dominant narrative is one of opposition. For example, the fifth chapter, "Stigmatization in the Furry Fandom," explores a more literal opposition between these two poles, examining the "intra-stigmatization between lifestylers and hobbyists" (103). The sole discussion of a site of nonopposition between lifestylers and hobbyists comes in the sixth chapter, "Pornography in the Furry Fandom." Here, Austin observes that "[s]trangely, pornography seems to be the only part of the fandom where hobbyists and lifestylers are doing something for the same reason" (131). But Austin’s focus on the extreme articulations of this dichotomy is intentional; it establishes a paradigm from which other, future research can narrow into specificities and nuances.

[4] Austin uses this paradigm as connective tissue throughout. Chapter 3, "The Furry Habitus," differentiates between a furry habitus as it is realized by furs of a hobbyist or lifestyler bent. Chapter 4, "Species Choice in the Furry Fandom," delves into the psychological whys and the semiotic OwO??s of speciation in the fandom as differentiated, again, by one’s furryness being narratable as hobbyist or lifestyler. Chapters 5 and 6, "Stigmatization in the Furry Fandom" and "Pornography in the Furry Fandom," respectively, continue this trend. With the hobbyist–lifestyler dichotomy forming such a consistent throughline of this book, it facilitates targeted readings. Readers from animal studies could very easily read the introduction and then skip to the fourth chapter. Porn studies scholars could equally jump straight out of the book’s opening into its penultimate sixth chapter. Anyone familiar with the French intelligentsia at the latter half of the twentieth century will feel at home in the second and third chapters. The fifth chapter on stigma is more anomalous as it does not align perfectly with any discipline and is possibly the most intrafurry studies-invested chapter in the book. However, I encourage readers unfamiliar with furry to specifically make time for it. This is the chapter with the most frequent presentation and discussion of quotes from furs and is perhaps the most useful for newcomers looking to gain an introductory fluency on furry as an existing cultural entity.

[5] Across the chapters, Austin stresses that a recognition of and theorization around the hobbyist–lifestyler dichotomy is important as it arrests the idea of the furries as being a homogenous community. In reoccurring fashion, Fan Identities positions itself in opposition to the IARP (the International Anthropomorphic Research Project, aka FurScience) on this point. Specifically, in chapter five, Austin distinguishes stigma as experienced and produced by lifestylers or hobbyists, respectively; she contrasts her new work with the previously published studies of the IARP. She states the IARP sees "Furries…as a homogenous group and thus [proclaims] all Furries to be similarly stigmatized" (91). Austin’s argument on the IARP’s perspective is true only in a technical sense. In 2008, Gerbasi et al. (not yet the IARP, but its clear origin) published the first peer-reviewed paper on furs. This article proposes a typology of furs into four groups, based on an untheorized transversal that shifted "gender identity disorder" to "species identity disorder." The typology was transantagonistic. While the IARP has defended that paper and its ethics in print (Gerbasi et al. 2011), they have not continued the trend of proposing categories of furs. Thus, the IARP currently does not so much see furs as a homogenous group, as Austin claims, as abstain from having any opinion on the point until their scientific-cum-ostensibly neutral measurements reflect such differentiation as existing. Austin’s argument is an epistemological one about how to approach and think of furry; it advances toward a field-organizing paradigm in lieu of the IARP’s targeted scientific forays and cautious conclusions.

[6] In this way, the arguments and structure of Austin’s book operate to make it a grounding work for scholarship on furry. In the short concluding chapter, Austin charts areas of further, future study: fursuit envy, the ethics of ("extreme") cartoon pornographies, and nonfurry (in the literal sense of not having fur) fursonas (e.g., those based on reptiles, aka scalies). And, perhaps more generatively, there are a number of polemical arguments advanced throughout the book that are new to academic scholarship on furry. These include the argument that a furry identity is exclusively a product of online socialization and that "Furry conventions…are not the places where a Furry finds out about Furry identity" (52); the argument that "Furries are not engaging in a modified form of bestiality" (119) but that "Cub Fur [cannot] be considered ethical pornographic viewing" (128); and that the lifestyler furry’s identity "cannot be represented through the simple means of their actions or words which come from the body but from their identifying of Furry signifiers" (78). Though Austin does not particularly integrate existing work from furs on furry into this book, I do want to emphasize that all of the subjects Austin engages have been theorized by furs in inner-fandom discourse, some of them very publicly and some in print.

[7] To linger on the book’s conclusion, I want to engage Austin on her observations regarding what "[she has] distinctly failed to interrogate in this book": the "racial divides in fandom" (137). In the book’s conclusion, Austin recognizes this lack of interrogation; the ultimate culprit is herself: "as a white scholar, it never occurred to me to look into these power relations" (137). Frankly, I remain bemused at the frankness of this admission. Not because of its potential to reflect badly upon Austin or her work but because it is framed as simply the neglect of an area "rich for future research" with the fault solely the individual’s. Austin argues this lack is "due to the whiteness of the scholars themselves" (137). But this is not ignorance of some variable to be connected additively and cannot be reduced to an individual’s ignorance as Austin claims. It must be stipulated that this is an epistemological ignorance—more specifically, white ignorance (note 3). This is an ignorance of a constitutive aspect of how the book understands itself and of how knowledge gets reproduced, codified, and commodified in the academy.

[8] Austin’s academic foundation in her analysis of lifestylers is posthumanism followed by animal studies. While critiques always abound, for brevity I stick to Zakiyyah Jackson’s (2020) work that synthesizes and expands on decades of work in black studies. Jackson argues that "the economies of value presumed in posthumanism and animal studies need to be historicized and transformed, namely, the presumption that all humans are privileged over all animals by virtue of being included in humanity, or that racism is a matter of suggesting that black people are like animals based on a prior…form of violence rooted in speciesism" (16–17). Austin, orthodox in her engagements with both academic formations, follows these economies of value and makes these exact arguments critiqued by Jackson. Racism is given as a variation of speciesism (75), and from that standpoint Austin argues the lack of primate fursonas is due to a demographic preponderance of whites in the fandom and these white furs "not wish[ing] to associate with apes due to racist connotations…attributed to apes in the past" (75). No nonwhite subjects are considered; research on black populations is included solely to illustrate the importance/effects of the sociological aspects investigated by the book (vernaculars, 63; stigma, 86–87; representation in porn, 119), but these discussions are not extended to black furs and simply serve as analogies for an assumed furry subject.

[9] In this way, Fan Identities is predictable. Crafting a work of scholarship on furry that provides a paradigmatic guide for approaching and investigating this assemblage of subjects and cultures called furry, Austin does so with a guiding ethic—an economy of value—that centers the posthuman and postmodern mythic positions of animals, women, and (now) the furries. The discussion starts within this academic milieu; there it remains, not venturing elsewhere. This is a work interested in defining an approach, an epistemology, and an ethic for research on furry; it does that, unquestionably. Even if brought into the more quantitative, scientific modes of study that are the norm for (nongraduate labor) scholarship on furry (e.g., the IARP), Austin makes her fundamental contributions clear and citable. Therefore, those not interested in studying furry simply need to look elsewhere if they want to read about furry outside of the white academic canon. Those who are interested in studying furry need to decide how they want research on furry to integrate with the white canon.

[10] This work accents the existence of a first wave of furry studies. Being the first monograph on furry, it rounds out the literature on furry. There is now academic work on furry from nearly all major fields and in multiple formats and forums. Fan Identities curves toward the horizon for this treatment and narration of furry and brings out the understanding of it as being circular and repetitive, similar to the first wave of fan studies (note 4). Of course, the first waves of furry and fan studies were both, in a word, white. Both were defined by a driving sense of ethicality against unjust pathologization. This ethical commitment developed to be politically facile in its reification of an assumed subject (fan or furry, respectively). Austin writes, "Unfortunately, trolls also have developed their own vernacular which is used to discriminate against Furries such as the term ‘FurFag.’ This is due to the misconception…that all Furries are sexual deviants" (65). But to what extent is the issue stigmatized, misunderstood fan practices and not homophobia, which is not just bound to the present slur but also exists in the idea that there is no pride to be had in being sexually deviant? Elsewhere, Austin critiques Hsu and Bailey’s argument on "autoanthropomorphozoophilia" as being "a similar kind of pathologizing that has been common in fan studies" (112–13). Hsu and Bailey’s work is violently transmisogynistic, and citations need to be contextualized by that fact; that context does not live within the bounds of the terms "fan" or "furry."

[11] Austin’s monograph engages a breadth of academic fields, and its structure and organization facilitate its ability to complement various disciplinary discussions. In particular, fan studies scholars should find this book relevant for its adaptability to any discussion of identity, stigma, or porn, even outside of an explicitly furry context. And, regardless of discipline, those writing on adjacent communities (My Little Pony fandom, pups, otherkin, BDSM, etc.) will find the book relevant for its theorizations of animality and/or ethics. Finally, squarely within the scholarship on furry, Austin’s work accentuates the existence of a first wave of furry studies. For that context, Fan Identities in the Furry Fandom therefore produces the understanding, want, and need for work done otherwise and for other reasons.


1. There are various orthographic and terminological variations around to describe and talk about furry ([F/f]andom, [F/f]urry, community, culture, etc.). Sometimes they reflect different concepts/beliefs/communities; sometimes they do not. In this review, "furry" refers to the culture/community and "the fandom" is a synonym for "furry." My terms and orthographic choices differ from Austin; I will use my own when not quoting Austin. I encourage unfamiliar readers to engage with, but not overcomplicate, the variations and ambiguity; furs don’t have a guidebook either.

2. Austin’s post in the r/furry subreddit soliciting research participants is still online at the following link:

3. Read Mills (2007) to understand that "white" does not attach the problem to the epidermis.

4. As narrated by Gray, Sandvoss, and Harrington (2007). Their analysis maintains its validity even if you replace all instances of "fan(dom)" with "furry": "We could perhaps refer to this stage of fan studies as the 'Fandom Is Beautiful' phase. As is common in the early stages of identity politics for groups heretofore Othered by mainstream society, early fan studies did not so much deconstruct the binary structure in which the fan had been placed as they tried to differently value the fan's place in said binary" (3).


Gerbasi, Kathleen C., Penny L. Bernstein, Samuel Conway, Laura L. Scaletta, Adam Privitera, Nicholas Paolone, and Justin Higner. 2008. "Furries from A to Z (Anthropomorphism to Zoomorphism)." Society and Animals 16:197–222.

Gerbasi, Kathleen C., Laura L. Scaletta, C. Nuka Plante, and Penny L. Bernstein. 2011. "Why So FURious?" Society and Animals 19:302–304.

Gray, Jonathan, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington. 2007. "Why Fans?" Introduction to Fandom: Identities and Communities in a Mediated World, edited by Jonathan Gray, Cornel Sandvoss, and C. Lee Harrington, 1–16. New York: New York University Press.

Jackson, Zakiyyah. 2020. Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World. New York: New York University Press.

Mills, Charles. 2007. "White Ignorance." In Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance, edited by Shannon Sullivan and Nancy Tuana, 13–38. New York: State University of New York Press.